Late for Work 8/17: Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Streak in Danger of Ending

081718_LFW

Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Streak in Danger of Ending

For the past 14 years, an undrafted rookie free agent has made the Ravens’ 53-man roster at the start of the regular season.

Throughout the years, many of these players have ended up being big contributors, such as running back Priest Holmes, linebacker Bart Scott and kicker Justin Tucker. In the last few seasons, defensive tackle Michael Pierce and linebackers Zachary Orr and Patrick Onwuasor made it as undrafted rookies, while the tradition continued last year with the inclusions of linebacker Bam Bradley and Patrick Ricard, who originally tried out for the Ravens as a defensive lineman but now also plays fullback.

As cool as the streak is, Baltimore Beatdown’s Logan Levy thinks it might not last much longer.

“Due to how deep Baltimore’s roster is, an UDFA may not be able to crack the 53-man roster this season,” Levy wrote.

Indeed, the sheer number of quality players the Ravens are trying out this season makes it tough for an undrafted rookie.

That difficult path started during the 2018 NFL Draft when the Ravens, through various trades, selected 12 players. If all 12 make the team they’d make up over 20 percent of the Ravens’ 53-man roster. That seems unlikely to happen, which makes it even trickier for a player Baltimore didn’t use a draft pick on to make it.

Also, as bad as it sounds, how healthy the Ravens have been isn’t benefiting the undrafted rookies. In years past, an untimely injury to a perceived roster lock has opened the door for an undrafted rookie to make the team. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened this year, as 86 of 90 players practiced yesterday.

Though it’s clearly going to be tough, there are a few undrafted rookies who have put themselves in position to make it.

RB Gus Edwards (Rutgers)

In Levy's opinion, Edwards has the best chance of making the 53-man roster because of Kenneth Dixon’s persistent injuries. Edwards leads the Ravens in rushing through two preseason games with Despite referring to Edwards as “impressive in the first two preseason games,” Levy still believes the final running back spot on the depth chart is Dixon’s to lose.

“Edwards has displayed great vision and patience as a runner, but he has struggled at times in pass protection, which could be the key for any running back to ‘dethrone’ Kenneth Dixon,” he wrote.

Press Box's Bo Smolka also named Edwards, saying he has "demonstrated a physical, hard running style to complement Alex Collins and Buck Allen."

RB Mark Thompson (Florida)

Despite currently being “behind Edwards on the depth chart,” Thompson flashed some potential against the Los Angeles Rams, making a big open field tackle during a punt return, and creating a 29-yard gain out of a screen pass. “His ability to put his head down and gain extra yards is enticing,” Levy wrote.

“He has to show more as a runner if he wants to beat out Edwards and Dixon, but with three more preseason games, Thompson will likely have plenty of opportunities to do so.”

WR/RS Janarion Grant (Rutgers)

The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec agrees with Levy on this one, and actually named Grant as “probably the best bet for that streak to continue.” Zrebiec noted that he worked with the second team against the Rams, as well as handling return duties, and has “continually shown an ability in practice to get open in the middle of the field.”

As Smolka pointed out, Grant "drew the ire" of Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg after a taunting penalty in practice, but it also came a "dazzling cutback" return that would have gone for a touchdown. Two days later, Grant was the Ravens' top returner against the Rams, "suggesting that Rosburg had forgiven the transgression."

Still, Zrebiec believes he “still might be facing an uphill battle.”

LB Chris Board (North Dakota State)

Zrebiec also noted that Chris Board has done well and shouldn’t be counted out. “The inside linebacker out of North Dakota State runs well and seems to be around the ball a lot. He also plays one of the team’s thinnest positions.”

Board leads the Ravens defense with 10 tackles through two preseason games and, as Smolka pointed out, has played a team-high 36 special teams snaps with two tackles. Baltimore has a track record of keeping undrafted inside linebackers, and two of Board's teammates, Albert McClellan and Onwuasor, were undrafted.

"The 6-foot-2, 229-pound Orlando native showed his athleticism with a leaping end-zone interception in practice earlier this week, and considering the Ravens' lack of depth at inside linebacker, there is an opening here," Smolka wrote.

Overall, there’s plenty of talent among the Ravens’ class of undrafted rookies this season. The issue is the numbers – the Ravens have a lot of healthy, talented players trying to make the 53-man squad. It’s a good problem to have.

Justin Tucker Says M&T Bank Stadium Is Toughest Venue to Kick in

No kicker in NFL history has been as accurate as Tucker. Entering 2018, he has made 202 of his 224 field-goal attempts and never missed an extra point in his career.

The opinion of a kicker that talented should matter a lot in the argument over which NFL stadium is the toughest to kick in.

Tucker weighed in on the subject while speaking with Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman. His answer may surprise you as he didn’t go for a rival’s venue like Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field or New England’s Gillette Stadium.

“I'd argue that Baltimore is the toughest place to kick in football,” Tucker said. “It's a grass surface. The wind swirls. It gets cold. So, consistency is key."

Tucker may have a point. According to stats at NFL.com, Tucker has an 85 percent (94 of 110) success rate at home versus 95 percent (108 of 114) conversion rate on the road. The trend continued in 2017, when he converted 34 of his 37 attempts for the season, with all three of his misses happening at M&T Bank Stadium.

That isn’t the only subject Tucker was candid about this week.

While participating in a Q&A with Zrebiec, Tucker spoke about how he approaches big kicks. He referred to those moments as “incredibly nerve-wracking,” but said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s OK to be scared, nervous. It’s OK to have fear,” Tucker said. “Courage isn’t a lack of fear. It’s embracing your fear and not suppressing it and embracing all those emotions and harnessing that in making the ball go straight.”

Tucker also discussed the most memorable kick of his career thus far. He has a lot to choose from, including one from 61 yards against Detroit in 2013, and the double overtime kick against Denver in 2012, which sent the Ravens to the AFC Championship.

Tucker didn’t choose either of those. He ultimately landed on one from his rookie season on the road against Pittsburgh, which was broadcasted on Sunday Night Football. After missing earlier in that game, Tucker was called upon to convert a kick from close to the exact same spot.

“I remember telling myself, ‘If you are at all worthy of being a professional football player, you better make this kick. You better hit it right down the middle,’” Tucker said. “Sure enough, Morgan [Cox] throws back 12 o’clock laces, Sam [Koch] gives me a quick spot and the ball basically kicked itself. But I remember that kick because it was early in my career, it was on as big of a stage as I’ve ever played on.”

Training Camp Stock Up, Stock Down

With the training camp portion of the preseason complete, a lot of media members are looking at which Ravens raised their stock, as well as which players have gone in the opposite direction.

Stock Up

DT Willie Henry: PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz touts Henry as a member of the defense that has stood out for the right reasons during training camp.

“Henry slimmed down and caused havoc in offensive backfields through training camp,” he wrote. “He routinely knifed through the offensive line and seemed to put the clamps on a starting job.”

ILB Kenny Young: Zrebiec thinks Young has pulled even in what was originally a one-sided competition between him and inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor.

“The rookie fourth-round pick makes mistakes, but he plays extremely fast and with aggression.”

The Baltimore Sun’s Child Walker wrote, “Of all the players in the Ravens’ 2018 draft class, the 23-year-old Young has one of the best opportunities to earn immediate snaps.”

Stock Down

OG Jermaine Eluemunor: Kasinitz looks at Eluemunor’s roles throughout training camp as the right guard with the second string, as well as filling in at tackle and guard for the first unit, and thinks it “hints that he has a shot to stay active on game days as a versatile reserve.”

But Eluemenor has struggled with penalties during practices, which has carried over to games. “He earned flags for two false starts in Thursday’s preseason game, squandering his opportunity to separate himself from other offensive linemen.”

WR Jaleel Scott: The fourth-round pick hasn’t done enough to distance himself from the wide receiver pack that’s competing for the final spots on the 53-man roster, according to Kasinitz.

Though he wrote “the 6-foot-5 Scott harbors a unique skill set,” Kasinitz believes, “Scott didn’t make enough plays to stand out at training camp. He failed to compete for the ball at times and dropped passes in individual drills.”

Willie Snead IV Is the Best Wide Receiver Bargain in NFL

The Ravens made a really shrewd move when they signed Willie Snead IV this offseason, according to Pro Football Focus’ Gordon McGuinness.

McGuinness named Snead as the best value contract for wide receivers in the NFL, leading a list that includes Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and New England’s Julian Edelman.

“With just $1 million per year guaranteed, this is a good contract for the Ravens to take a chance on,” McGuinness wrote.

McGuinness cites Snead’s 2015 and 2016 seasons with the New Orleans Saints as reasons to believe he will outplay the value of his contract. During those two years, Snead made 141 catches for 1,879 yards. He also scored seven touchdowns, while scoring PFF receiving grades of 73.3 and 76.7, respectively.

“In 2016, his yards per route run average of 1.89 from the slot ranked 14th among wide receivers, while he dropped just 6.7 percent of his passes when lined up inside,” McGuinness wrote.

Last year was a completely different story for Snead, as a suspension and injuries derailed his 2017 campaign. He finished the season with just eight catches for 92 yards.

“I’m ready to come back and show that last year was a fluke thing and I want to get back to where I was,” Snead said on July 24. “Definitely want to break some goals of mine and take it to the next level.”

Quick Hits

·       You can count Colts owner Jim Irsay among those excited for the joint practices starting today.

·       Kasinitz profiled wide receiver Tim White and the work he put in this offseason to improve himself as a player, as well as a teammate. “Last year, I came in and I was just trying to be a playmaker," White said. "Now, I'm thinking of trying to put the team in the right position and understanding the situation a little bit more."

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